Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Question of Leadership

You know that nagging feeling that you've forgotten something, but you can't remember what it is? What with all the good spirits and forward motion these days out at the BOE, I almost missed an important date: June 5th.

On Monday, June 5th, the PTA Council of Howard County will be having its elections for the coming year. The current President, Reg Avery, appears to be the only person who has put a name in for the post. When I saw that, a little warning signal went off in my head. Or rather, a troubling gut feeling turned up, rather like Detective Columbo in his rumpled raincoat.

"Just one more thing, sir. There's just this one question that's been troubling me."

Mr. Avery made the news earlier this year when he made some rather uncharitable remarks about a sitting member of the Board of Education. It seems odd to me that the leader of PTACHC would get involved in a lawsuit against the Board of Education in this way. Does this constitute of a conflict of interest?

Moving on. Or rather, looking back. In an email that turned up in a public information request about mold in Glenwood Middle School, Mr. Avery sounds off to former Board of Education member Ann DeLacy. The focus of the email is a request by Christina Delmont-Small to hold an upcoming meeting somewhere other than GMS, due to safety concerns. In his email, Avery speaks in a derogatory manner of Ms. Delmont-Small, another PTACHC member, and Paul Lemle, outgoing head of HCEA. You can read the email in its entirety here.

Again, it seems strange to see a leader of PTACHC allying himself with Central Office and against other members of his own organization. Does that compromise his ability to lead?

"That question? The one that's been bothering me? Oh, it's just this little thing, really. I just wondered ..."

What comes next?

Perhaps it would be a good time for the members of PTACHC to look at a change in leadership. It has the potential to be a dynamic and valuable voice for good for our schools. Who can best represent and empower that voice?

I understand that nominations from the floor can be accepted during the election process. It should be an interesting evening.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Story of Service

As a follow up to yesterday's post about a personal connection to military service, I highly recommend this post from HoCoMDcc. Local blogger Harry Schwarz writes about his father,

Lt. William H. Schwarz, and his service during the Korean War. He uses contemporary newspaper articles, photographs, and letters to tell the story. Definitely worth the read.

Quick question before I sign off today: what marks the official start of summer for you?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Service and Sacrifice

Memorial Day is about honoring the fallen. Veterans Day is about thanking those who serve and have served.

I don't really know any of them.

Oh, my late father and grandfather served in each of the World Wars. But that is the sum total of my experience with knowing people in the Armed Forces. Pretty much.

My life has not been personally affected by the loss of a loved one in military service. I don't have close friends or relatives serving today. More and more I think that there exists a cultural divide between those like me whose worlds are insulated and those for whom being in the military or having loved ones who serve is very much a part of life.

This is bound to influence how I experience a day like Memorial Day. I imagine battle and loss of life in a distant sense, like something one reads about in a book. I can't even imagine what that would feel like if it were my husband, or sister, or best friend. Having a volunteer force has created a divide of sorts. And like the other divides in our country--race, political, economic, ethnic--we experience a sense of separateness which can reinforce misunderstanding.

Although I know that today is a day to honor those who died in service to their country, I want to direct you to this article about the new Veterans Monument which will be located in Columbia. The mission of the this monument is to honor both veterans and their families. This vision is remarkable, I think. Most such statues look backwards. This one will be rooted in the present and continue to be relevant in the future.

"The concept for this monument revolves around family," said Gillette, a married father of two sons. "The idea is to create a central place to celebrate and give thanks for our veterans, while also recognizing the service and support of family members."

If you have a family member or friend who never came home, I want you to know I am thinking of you today. For there is sacrifice not only in the valor of the fallen, but also in the love of those they leave behind.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Main Drag: HoCo Holler

I dropped off two teens for a day of fun yesterday. Their destination? Old Ellicott City. As I turned on to Main Street I couldn't help but recall the horrific scenes of flooding last summer and its devastating aftermath. And now, as I pulled over to let the kids out, I was witnessing such a different scene: a sunny day, folks out and about, many shops beautifully restored.

It's amazing.

I know that there is still work to be done, I know that some businesses suffered losses from which they could not recover. Even taking this into account, the overall recovery of Old Ellicott City is astoundingly good. So many people worked in so many ways to make this happen. Love, determination, hard work, cash and in-kind donations. Creative thinking and problem solving, too.

The recovery in Ellicott City is rather like the proverbial ice berg. You know--the one about how so little of an iceberg is visible. About 7/8 of it is below the surface. There are visible faces and names to the recovery effort in the form of local leaders and partnerships. But I think that all of them would be quick to emphasize the importance of all the unseen helpers who worked together to make this happen.

So the girls went to the Forget-Me-Not Factory and Sweet Elizabeth Jane. (My daughter liked their new location.) They had lunch from River House Pizza and dessert from Scoop-AHH-Dee-Doo. They met up with my husband for the ride home at the parking lot by the Wine Bin because my daughter knew she could find it, having been to a movie night there. There was something so lovely to me in watching her share her love of this place with a friend.

A fervent and grateful HoCo Holler to everyone who has worked and is working to bring back Old Ellicott City and to assure its viability in the future. Your work looks really, really good.

Comments? Post them here:

Saturday, May 27, 2017


The bells are back. The Columbia Association is still putting a few finishing touches to the new installation. 

Since the Lakefront bell tower is one of those iconic structures of Columbia song and story, I wanted to go and have a look at this for myself. As luck would have it, I bumped into David Greisman, who was there taking photos. (This is his picture.)

Greisman, who is Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications at Columbia Association, is a hometown boy with memories aplenty of a Columbia childhood. He remembers sitting under the old bell tower reading comic books. (Was there once a comic book store at the Mall?) It looks as though the new bell tower, dubbed a "bell tree" will be gated off. Sorry, no more comic book lounging.

I don't think that's why it will be gated, though. 

"You know, sometimes people used to climb it..." his voice trailed off, a bit of a twinkle in his eye. 

As you may already know, the old bell tower came down because the structure had deteriorated to the point where it was dangerous. Wood rots, especially when exposed to dampness. But the bells were put in storage and CA has been contemplating just how and where to bring them back. With the fiftieth birthday celebration upon us, they decided upon this bell tree installation to bring back the sound of the bells to the Lakefront.

I gather that this particular installation is a temporary one, while they decide on a more permanent home. That will be an interesting discussion. I am sure that many folks will want them to be exactly the way they were. For now, I think that CA is hitting just the right note in creative reuse.

I haven't actually heard them ring yet. I'm looking forward to that. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Making Good Choices

Teachers at my school often ask students to think about whether they are making good choices. As I look at recent events in the Howard County Schools, this expression is on my mind.

Was the BOE making good choices when they chose Dr. Martirano to step in upon the resignation of Dr. Foose? 

Yes, I believe they were. They were acting to preserve as much normalcy as possible in a time which would undoubtedly bring great change and unpheaval. They chose a candidate with a proven track record. It looks very much to me that they were looking for values as much as an impressive résumé: putting students first, a passion for equity, an open and responsive nature.

Is Dr. Martirano making good choices?'s too early to tell. Certainly his beginnings are promising. His willingness to meet with stakeholders and to listen as much as he talks bodes well for a good relationship with the community. The topics that he speaks most about are ones that resonate with me as well: birth-through-five initiatives, providing the best education for students that aren't college-bound, equity, restorative practices, honoring and respecting teachers.

If he is who he says he is, we are in extremely good hands. Dr. Martirano exudes a refreshing sense of humanity and empathy which has been sorely needed in our local discussions about education. But  he has plenty on his plate and much of it is not easy. I think it will soon become apparent whether he knows how to do what he is pledging to do and if he truly means what he says. I am inclined to believe the best of him. But after the painfully demoralizing tenure of the last Superintendent, some folks may be a bit wary of giving their trust just yet.

Did the County Executive make a good choice in his selection for the empty spot on the BOE?

If you look at this as fulfilling the basic requirements, then I guess you can't fault him. He gets to make a political appointment, and, by golly, that's exactly what he did. By all accounts he had over thirty candidates to choose from. He chose a political ally. Ananta Hejeebu looks good on paper and of course we all hope he does a brilliant job because, quite frankly, so much is at stake.

But there were a number of applicants that were far more qualified and who have demonstrated ability in working with stakeholders on important educational issues. I am hearing this objection both from Republicans and Democrats, by the way. And the most disappointment (disgust? outrage?) is coming from special education parents who have been consistently involved in advocating for special needs students and programs.

So, did he make a good choice? I'd have to say he made a small, strategic choice. I guess the best you could say is that he didn't break any rules.

But he could have made a excellent choice--for our schools and for our children. Perhaps this is a great example of why we elect BOE members. It appears that the community has higher standards than a politician.

In sum: overall things are looking good. Some things, however, make me scratch my head.

Comments? Post them here:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainy Day Blues

The weather. I'm under it.

Sending you to this post by HoCoHouseHon.


I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts about the new Superintendent and the County Executive's pick for BOE.

Stay dry if you can.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

High Alert

Lt. Richard Collins III was killed by a radical extremist.

Can we say that?

In the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Manchester, England I am still trying to wrap my brain around the horrific killing far closer to home. The University of Maryland is experiencing a wave of racist ugliness. Since the presidential election episodes of this sort of domestic terror have exploded across the country.

Let's call it what it is.

This is terrorism. It is radical extremism. We need to set our warning systems to the highest level to protect potential victims. But are we? Has University of Maryland leadership truly engaged with the African American community and acted on their concerns? I'm seeing some discussions on Twitter that lead me to believe that institutional response has been disappointing to the student community.

No meaningful education can take place in an environment where students feel that they are more likely to be harassed, intimidated, and even killed merely for the color of their skin. And if this kind of racist violence causes students of color to stay away, it calls into question the fundamental legitimacy of UMD as an institution of higher learning.

If some are excluded, all are affected.

I don't question the sincerity of those who grieve for the victims in Manchester. But it is every bit as appropriate to grieve for Richard Collins and for his empty chair at the Bowie State graduation ceremony. That empty chair represents all the gifts and potential lost. A place where this young man should have been safe was not.

If taking a hard look at that motivates us to do something in our own communities, it will be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This is not a community post. This is personal.

If you have a chance to go and say goodbye to someone: go. Just go. If you believe the invitation to visit is sincere, then go.

I didn't.

I didn't want to interfere, I didn't want to intrude. I didn't want to impose some need of my own for closure into someone else's pain and suffering,

I thought I was doing the right thing. The selfless thing. The noble thing, even.

But maybe I was just afraid.

How do you say goodbye to someone for whom you have felt both love and fear, and anger, despair, yet still kinship: a distant kind of familial obligation? How do you reach across years and years of separation? All that you know is that the reasons why everything happened the way it did are blurred and ambiguous. You feel no wisdom. You feel you have nothing new to offer.

It was another lifetime. We were different people. That's what people say, right?

I was so sure I was doing the right thing. Now I'm grieving for the chance I didn't take.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Elevating the Conversation

There's a new podcast in town. Have you listened to Elevate Maryland ?  Hosted by local bloggers and community activists Candace Dodson-Reed and Tom Coale, it has already completed four episodes. Yes, you can find it on iTunes.

Each episode focuses around a guest. So far the show has hosted:

Former County Executive Ken Ulman
State Comptroller Peter Franchot
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano

The hosts do an excellent job in balancing the right kinds of questions for their guests with the right amount of time to listen and let their guests be themselves. In addition, the "unsung hero" of the show is Ilana Bitner of HoCoMoJo, who handles the recording, editing, and production duties.

The show is taped at Joe's Place Deli. Have you ever eaten there? It's awesome: delicious food, friendly and cozy atmosphere.

If you are trying to get a good sense of the new Superintendent, I highly recommend the latest episode. A teaser: it is possible to complete an entire interview without mentioning testing, test scores, data, "college and career ready", or "world class education".

I've learned something from each episode. It's thoughtful, informative, and fun. And it's off to a good start.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If You Build It

I keep going back to Wine in the Woods even though I don't really drink wine. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a taste of merlot now and again, but life experience has taught me that wine equals migraines. As I watch people wander through the woods with a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other, I have to suppress a shudder when I imagine the likely consequences. But that's just me.

I keep returning to our annual rite of Spring because of this.

I continue to be excited about Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. Despite being a card-carrying introvert, I'm happy to turn up annually to talk to perfect strangers about the Inner Arbor Trust. Wine in the Woods is a great time to do this. You're not trapping people in a room to lecture them. You're not making a do-or-die presentation for funds.

You're sharing enthusiasm.

This year's experience was especially sweet for me because we had more than architects' drawings and computer-generated renderings to talk about. We could simply gesture to the left of our booth to the Chrysalis, where musicians were playing and happy festival-goers were spread out on the grass like brightly-colored wildflowers.

The park is not some lofty pipe-dream. It is here, it is happening, and more is on the way.

Talking to people at Wine in the Woods is a sort of evangelism. While more people than ever already know about the Chrysalis, there are still plenty who don't know about plans for the park at all. Some don't understand that the park is separate from Merriweather Post Pavillion. Some think that the construction by Howard Hughes along Broken Land Parkway is on park property. (It isn't.)

So you talk to one person, and they walk away with more knowledge than they had before. And they tell their friends. Little by little the word is spread. Many people I talked with understood that the park is a part of the overall resurgence in Downtown Columbia to create a vibrant core for our community. Yes, people were telling me this year, things like:

  • I really think this is a continuation of Rouse's dream.
  • I like everything they're doing to make this whole area more walkable.
  • This is a part of what makes Columbia a number one place to live.
  • I want to know what else is happening at the Chrysalis this summer.
  • The Butterfly building is going to be so cool. Will it be available for rentals?

If you are going to Wine in the Woods today, stop by the Inner Arbor Trust booth and say hello. You can get a free bracelet and a list of upcoming events. Or, for a small donation, you can get a Chrysalis  poster or a nifty Chrysalis tote bag.

Better than that, you can enjoy some great conversation.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

And Another Thing

As soon as I clicked "publish" yesterday I realized I had omitted the announcement by Byron MacFarlane that he will be running for a seat on the County Council. My apologies for this oversight.

In light of this news, here's a short piece I wrote about Mr. MacFarlane in 2014. I look forward to catching up with him in the near future to hear what's on his mind as his campaign begins.

Taking the Time (October, 2014)

Yesterday I bumped into Byron MacFarlane at a holiday potluck I attended with my daughter. I'm sure you won't be suprised to learn that she immediately ditched me to hang out with her friends, so I was eating dinner more or less on my own. I had set aside my plate and gotten out my crocheting when he came in the room, spotted me, and came over to say hello.

In case you don't know, Byron is the Register of Wills in Howard County. I haven't ever needed to see him in his official capacity. I know him solely from conversations at social events. Like this one. I feel a bit of kinship with him as my father and grandfather's name were Byron, and it is such a rare name that there's almost a burden attached to it.

But that's another story altogether.

We talked about crocheting (something good to do with your hands if you're shy), the recent election, local people we admire, and his second swearing-in and how it felt to be beginning a second term in office. It struck me that his focus was on how important it is to treat your staff right, to show support and loyalty. He sounds like he'd be a great boss.

Soon he was off to join a table of his friends. The evening moved from dinner to a beautiful choral concert, and I had time to reflect on our conversation. I have experienced plenty of "drive-by" conversations with candidates and electeds over the last several years. After a while you get a good sense of who is really "with you" and who is scanning over your shoulder for more important people.

Mr. MacFarlane took the time to sit down and communicate on a very human level with someone from whom he likely had nothing to gain. That may not seem remarkable to you. But last night, alone at a social function with my crocheting, I found it to be a lovely gift.

I am thinking a lot about starting conversations these days. I highly recommend this post from the Rev'd Heather Kirk-Davidoff. She states:

We need an excuse to connect, a reason to invite someone to sit down for a moment and talk with us, a reason to open our door and ask someone to step inside.

As Pastor Chad Kline at Abiding Savior Lutheran would say, "Can I get an Amen?"


Reminder: Flea Market this morning at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. Proceeds go to HCPSS Lunch Program to pay down student lunch debt.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Headlines and Highlights

On my radar this morning:

  • BOE has approved a one year contract for Dr. Michael Martirano, 6-0.
  • There are over 30 applicants for the open BOE position.
  • Water main break on Main Street in Ellicott City opened up the street on Wednesday.
  • Merchants on Main Street went forward with their Girls Night out Thursday anyway. (I question "Mules on Main" as an appropriate theme, however...)
  • Carolyn Freel of Hammond High School is HCPSM Music Teacher of the Year, Laura Baker of  Ilchester Elementary, and Ben Deanne of Ellicott Mills Middle, Runners-up.
  • Oakland Mills High School MESA team won first place in the state of Maryland.
  • Today is Bike to Work Day.
  • Newest episode of Elevate Maryland will be taped today at Joe's Place Deli.
  • Wine in the Woods in this Weekend. Come visit me at the Inner Arbor Trust Booth.
  • Don't forget the Abiding Saviour Flea Market Saturday morning, proceeds to benent the HoCo school's lunch program. All the best people will be there.
Anything else we need to know?

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Acting Superintendent Michael Martirano is having a Town Hall event next week at Howard High School.

Since assuming his new role within the school system, Dr, Martirano has been reaching out to a variety of groups, both large and small. He met with the leadership of HCEA, with local advocates of HCPSS Community Shares, with teachers, with PTA presidents, with the parents of Grace McComas-- and these are just the meetings I know about. He made himself available for a meeting of the Board of Public Works in Annapolis, and showed up to speak at the Howard County Citizens Association meeting last night.

Dr. Martirano is putting his best foot forward as he begins his new job, and the fact that he has a fondness for crazy socks has already endeared him to many. But of course it takes more than meetings to mend broken relationships. And crazy socks, though a nice touch, aren't necessarily an adequate means of judging competence or sincerity.

What matters to me is the content of these meetings, which is why I am glad to have an opportunity to attend one of them myself. These are the things I'll be looking for:

  • Will the Acting Superintendent actually take questions from the crowd that haven't been pre-vetted and selected?
  •  Will his answers show he has truly listened to the question?
  •  Will his remarks address candidly the present state of the Howard County Schools?
  •  Will we get some specific examples of how he hopes to make Central Office more open, transparent, accountable, and responsive?
If you have your own questions, you should definitely turn up next week to ask them.  While I don't know much about Dr, Martirano--yet-- I do know that he relishes the opportunity to connect with people. In fact, I've heard he'll be making an appearance this Friday on Elevate Maryland, Howard County's newest podcast.

Do you have questions? What are some of the things you'll be looking for? Feel free to share them here:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Treasure Hunt

This Saturday, come browse through the collected treasures of our church community and find some new treasures for yourself. Yes, it's time for the Abiding Savior Flea Market.

We've all read too many stories about kids getting shamed because their parent were behind in paying the lunch fees. Stories like those motivated our Flea Marker director, Mary Jo Deets, to do something, This year's proceeds will go to supporting kids in need in the Howard County Schools by supporting the lunch program.

I continue to be amazed at the power of this one event to generate the funds to do good. And I really don't understand how one group of people never runs out of things to donate for the sale. But these treasures just keep turning up on an annual basis. Perhaps a hint to how this all works comes from Mrs. Deets' son Stephen:

Every year at the flea market I have to buy back stuff from my childhood that my mother is trying to get rid of. 

A word to the wise: the McCready family has donated a huge number of board games to the sale, if you're looking to get a bargain.

From a previous post about the Flea Market:

In addition to remarkable bargains you will find cheerful hearts, helpful advisors, and energetic assistance from church members young and old. All have a sincere desire to give you a price you want to hear along with a sense of humor. Even if you buy nothing (extremely unlikely) you will come away feeling better than when you arrived. 

Abiding Savior is the Lake Woebegon of Columbia parishes, almost too small to be found on a map. And yet every year this flea market raises a hefty sum for charity. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "though we be but small, we are fierce."

Please stop by Saturday morning to shop and have some fun. Help us help hungry kids right here in Howard County.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Let the Song Go On

With the morning brought the news that my older daughter's father has died. He had been ill for a long time.

He loved music more than anything in this world.

Take a moment today to listen to some music that you love. Even better, share some music with a friend.

Monday, May 15, 2017


Just a few questions this morning:

1. What is the deal with group Prom photos? This was not a thing in my youth. Your parents took a picture with you and your date. Period. We now have elaborate location photo shoots with the young ladies lined up by the color of their gowns. It's a bit like old school wedding photography.

If this makes everyone happy, including the kids, then who am I to object? I just wonder how this little tradition evolved.

2. Do you go to Wine in the Woods? If so, what do you like about it? If not--why not?

3. Who is on your personal short list for that enticing Board of Education seat?

Have a good Monday and send me all your questions here:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something More

The year was 1967. I was in the second grade and we were tasked with making Mother's Day cards. I couldn't draw well, and I knew I couldn't draw well. So I went with a full-on swirly colorful design instead of  a recognizable image. Then, to tie it all together, I added this message:

Mom, you're psychedelic-- like LSD!

What can I say? I was a child of the sixties. I picked up on the snippets of pop culture that were swirling around me. I can't imagine what my teacher thought.

My mom was not even remotely psychedelic. (Just in case that needs to be cleared up.) I had no earthly idea what LSD was. (You probably knew that, too.) I was just trying to do something cool. In my own way. Using the abilities that I possessed.

I have now been a mom for over 30 years. Something I have learned is how important it is to celebrate your children when they do just that. If they feel safe in your love and acceptance, they will keep trying, again and again, to do something cool, in their own way, using the abilities they possess.

Sometimes we worry that what our kids do reflects on us in a way that makes us look bad. We find ourselves cringing a bit, trying to reshape/modify/edit their unfiltered expressions. "Are you sure you want to wear stripes and flowers and plaid?"

Maybe that's because we don't give ourselves enough credit. How often do we celebrate ourselves, as mothers, for doing cool things in our own way using the abilities we possess? How often do we let ourselves feel that exhilaration of being ourselves and living our truth? Unfiltered, unmodified, unedited?

That's my message for Mother's Day this year. I feel sure that you will get plenty of the "Mom is always there for us, nurturing, remembering the important stuff, selflessly sacrificing", etc. etc. We all know the drill. And I don't deny the importance of the support and caregiving and all of the emotional labor that mothers do.

But maybe Mother's  Day, she thought, shouldn't come from a store. Maybe Mother's Day could be something more.

Happy Mother's Day. Be yourself, love yourself. Heck, be psychedelic if you want to.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


My Friday night.

The exhilaration of high school students immersed in music they love was contagious. It was like being at the best party ever, where everyone feels included. 

This is not meant to be a music review. I could talk how challenging the arrangements were, and how the students rose to the challenge. I could talk about tuning, ensemble, vocal quality, blend, the merits of the assorted soloists. But that's not the point I want to make.

What we were watching last night was sheer joy. It reminded me of the motto of a school where I once taught: cum gaudio discimus. With joy we learn.

The recent trend in our schools to value skill and drill and test scores over human experiences has led many parents and students to think that anything that doesn't give you quantifiable points must be sacrificed to the "College and Career Ready" gods. But the capacity for enjoyment must be cultivated every bit as much as intellectual output. Without the ability to experience joy nothing else matters.

To prove a point, I recommend watching this video about Edward.


Joy is an investment we must all make. Last night, as I was bathed in the gorgeous sounds of close-harmony music, I was blown away by how much energy joy can produce. It is truly a force for good.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Same Old Same Old

And in other news, Fatimah Waseem will no longer be writing about Howard County. I don't know if she is staying with the Sun or going elsewhere. I don't even know if she is staying in the field of journalism. These days it is a hard field to say in.

I've attracted both criticism and derision in the past for saying that Columbia/HoCo deserves to have comprehensive news coverage and a consistent journalistic presence in our community. The truth is, no matter how important we think we are, in the grand scheme of things we are just another suburban backwater experiencing the decline of local journalism.

This is not to say a decline in local journalists. We have had some wonderful folks writing for us and I hesitate to name any because I fear leaving someone out. Part of that is because they were so good and part is because there have been so dang many of them.

So thank you to Ms. Waseem for entering into our local ups and downs and trying to make some sense of them. I wish you well in whatever you do next. Thanks to all the reporters whose work has shed light on what's happening and who we are.

A reminder: if you want good news: pay for the news. Support local journalism. Support local journalists. They have to eat, pay rent, and feed their dogs just like the rest of us.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hashtag Puzzled

Who is Bryce Hall and why is he over?

A quick glance at Twitter this morning led me to this hashtag:


All I know at this point is that Bryce Hall lives in Howard County, is possibly a graduate of Howard High School, and is on tour. He appears to be famous in some way, at least on Twitter.

And he said something that set off this tweetstorm. At least that's what it looks like.

At first I thought this was an example of cyberbullying and was worried this was a student in our schools. I wondered if I should report it to hcpss. The more I looked it appeared to be a case where teens turn in someone in the public eye. You can be become famous through social media interaction, but the tide can just as easily turn on you. That looks like this is what's happening here.

The entire thing leaves me with a bad feeling about how teens are using social media to "take somebody down." Free expression I understand. A huge Twitter pile-on feels wrong.

If you have a teen on Twitter, ask them about this kind of interaction. Do they think "celebrities" are fair game? Do they use the same language online that they would use face-to-face? Or do they think that anything goes?

I don't know if Bryce Hall is someone I would like or loathe but I do think he deserves to be treated like a human being.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Two Cents

I stopped by the meeting of the Oakland Mills Village Board last night. Here's what I said:

Hi there, I'm Julia McCready and I've served on the Village Board here in Oakland Mills. I'm also an admin of the Facebook Group: Oakland Mills is Awesome. So I'm here tonight to chime in with my two cents as you begin your new year together.

One thing you should know about me: I'm crazy about Oakland Mills. My husband works in River Hill and now I'm working near Olney. People have been asking us if we are going to move closer to where we work. But that's crazy. We would never do that. Oakland Mills has everything that we want. We love the community, the walkability, the diversity. We love the Farmers Market, the Second Chance, the warm and helpful Village staff. We love being close to Merriweather, and to all the excitement that's happening Downtown.

That's just a part of why I don't think that Oakland Mills needs re-inventing. There are so many wonderful things about our village. I think we need to celebrate our successes, focus on our strengths and build on them.

I've been a teacher over thirty years and one thing I've learned is that the only way to get people to take risks, change, and grow is to create an environment where building relationships is important. Where people can feel good about themselves. Criticism, punitive actions, and negative talk are counter-productive to building and sustaining community.

Building relationships and making people feel good about themselves are also crucial in dealing with the Columbia Association, Howard County Government, and our Village Schools. When we say we value connections, we need to show that we really do. Value. Connections.

You're here tonight because you were the top vote getters in an election where about four hundred households voted. But the flip side to that is that about 3000 households didn't. I would have to say that those missing 3000 households are one of the most important issues you will face as a board. It is crucial that you address this. In fact, all of us who love Oakland Mills must address this. If our mission is to celebrate and improve our village, we need those people on board. They need to know how important they are.

As you vote on officers tonight, I ask that you make your choices based on who would be most likely to reach out to those missing 3000. Who will be the most welcoming, who will listen, give them opportunities to engage and contribute?

I think that person is Jonanthan Edelson. I've worked with him on a variety of community ventures and I've never been disappointed.

In fact, having served on the board, I know what a gift this is that all of you are giving to our community. Some nights things are light hearted and congenial. Other nights things are awkward and contentious. Some nights you are tired, looking at the clock and you just want to go home. But you know that the work you do here is important. It precisely because I know how important it is that I came down here tonight to give you my two cents.

Thank you for making Oakland Mills even more awesome.


I'm happy to report that Mr. Edelson was elected to serve as Chair of the board. I'm looking forward to more positive leadership this year.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Markets Are Coming

I'm excited. One of my favorite things about Spring is the opening of our local famers' markets. They begin this week. You won't be surprised that my favorite is the one in Oakland Mills. I love my Sunday jaunts down tomthe Village Center to see what's fresh, chat with neighbors, and even hear music some weeks. This year we'll even have River House Pizza! Now, if we could only get Neat Nick Preserves to stop by for a few Sundays...

If you want to get even more excited about seasonal food, check out the blog AnnieRie Unplugged. She knows her stuff, she knows where to get it, and how to cook it. And her photographs will leave you hoping for a dinner invitation.

There will be a new market this year in Clarksville, on the site of Clarksville Commons. I guess this is to replace the one that was held at the River Hill Garden Center? I'm hoping to get out there to try some ice cream from Scoop and Paddle this summer. And of course summer wouldn't be summer without snowballs from the stand at Kendall Hardware.

Snowballs are a seasonal food, right?

Tell me about your favorite HoCo market here:

Monday, May 8, 2017

You Can't Unsee It

I'm a big fan of some of the more whimsical online accounts such as Col Gateway, Ms. Frizz, and, of course, Mr. Trash Wheel. Not only is Mr. Trash Wheel fun, but he's doing his bit to clean up the Inner Harbor and educate folks on how to change habits that lead to pollution. It's a beautiful combination.

Recently Mr. Trash Wheel teamed with Peabody Heights Brewery to create a limited edition ale which will benefit Healthy Harbor. Here's a video from the release party.

My first response was: this is so much fun! This is what I want to see in Columbia 50th celebrations!

My second response, coming fast upon the first, was: oh my word. Everyone is white.*

Once you start seeing it, you can't unsee it.

There are so many ways our lives are segregated. I keep remembering what a woman in front of me said at an African American Community Roundtable event last year at HCC. I can't quote her word-for-word, but the gist of her comment was that black people had to cope with and deal with white people all the time, but the same was not true in the reverse. It was possible for white people to live and work and play and have little to no contact with people of other races. Knowing how to interact was not essential for success or survival. Being around lots of other white people was just "the norm."

It is possible, as a white person, to be oblivious to this and still survive. And succeed.

This has profound implications for how we address issues of race in a culture where whites still hold a position of privilege, often while unaware of how entrenched that privilege is. It effects how community members feel about creating the Diversity Coordinator position in the Howard County Schools. It influences opinions on whether or not we have de facto segregation in our school system. Whether conscious or unconscious, it is there.

As we look at a better future for our school system, I hope we consider what an amazing opportunity we have to address this with our children. What better place to start than the place where we all come together? Better policies now are a long-term investment for our future. Do we want to perpetuate segregation or open the doors to true integration?

Diversity Is Being Invited to the Party; Inclusion Is Being Asked to Dance

As you go through your week, I suggest that you keep your eyes open to see who is invited to the party and who is asked to dance.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

*A postscript: this post is not meant to criticize the Healthy Harbor initiative in any way, but rather to show how my gaze has changed and what that means to me.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Object

No sooner than the Superintendent's "retirement" deal was announced I spotted folks online criticizing the County Executive's role in mediating the impasse between the Board and Dr. Foose. In short, the complaints seemed to center around two points:

1. Kittleman is a lousy mediator if he couldn't do better than 1.6 million.
2. Kittleman is patting himself on the back and using this to make himself look good.

I object.

1. The former Board of Education, basically gambling with our tax dollars, voted on a legal contract that the current Board (and the County Executive, for that matter) were bound by. May I remind you that former Board Chair Christine O'Connor forced a vote without allowing questions or discussion? Does the C.E. have extra-legal powers that I don't know about?

2. All politicians are self-promoters. It comes with the job. It behooves them to tell the public what they are doing. My County Council member Calvin Ball wrote a brilliant letter to the State Superintendent of Schools advocating for a change in hcpss leadership. He rightly shared his letter with the public. He hopes it did some good.

Is he "patting himself on the back"? Do you think he deserves praise or ridicule?

To be clear, what I object to is passing judgment without truly knowing what was going on. I object to snap judgement based on partisan politics. We like what "our guy" does. We splutter with indignation at the "other guy".

If we could just wait a bit before we reduce the whole thing to partisanship, that'd be great.

Personally, I am grateful to everyone who brought us to where we are today. That would include: the County Executive, the County Council, members of the current Board of Education, the Howard County Delegation, the Maryland General Assembly, parent advocates, HCEA, perhaps even the Maryland Board of Public Works. I refuse to assign gratitude to members of one political party over the other.

Feel free to hold whatever opinions you like. But accept my humble suggestion that none of us were in the room where it happened. How on earth can we know enough to pass judgement?

Oh, and one more thing. By law the County Executive appoints the next Board member, now that Christine O'Connor has resigned. If the public discourse sinks to a mudfest of partisan bickering, will that give him any motivation to make a non-partisan choice? Words have consequences. There's a lot at stake here.

Something to think about.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Saturday, May 6, 2017


From the kids who brought you this evening of fun:


Today at four pm:


Panelists include:

Byron MacFarlane: 1st openly gay elected official, Howard County (Register of Wills)
Cindy Gissendammer: Professor, Towson University
Suzi Gerb: Teacher, Centennial High School
Eric Masten: PFLAG

This event is open to the community. Hats off to the River Hill High School GSA for continuing to share a welcoming and accepting message in our County.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Six Years

It's May! Time for all the good folks to gather at the Village Green--if only we knew where that was...

So begins my first blog post for Village Green/Town². It made its first appearance on Columbia Patch on this date in 2011.

Welcome to The Village Green. According to Wikipedia, a village green “… is traditionally at a central location and provides an open-air meeting place for the people of a village, for example at times of celebration, or for public ceremonies.”  
I am envisioning this space, where I will be sharing my ideas, as a village green of sorts—a place where we have the “customary right to indulge in lawful sports and pastimes.”
Almost daily I read news of Columbia’s villages: calling for participation, creating new visions, or struggling to reach consensus amidst polarizing differences. Just as often I cannot make up my mind whether to be encouraged and frustrated by it all.  So, this will be a place to sort it out with input from you, my fellow villagers.  
In a related entry, town squares are described: “Most town squares are hardscapes suitable for open markets, music concerts, political rallies, and other events that require firm ground. Being centrally located, town squares are usually surrounded by small shops such as bakeries, meat markets, cheese stores, and clothing stores. At their center is often a fountain, well, monument, or statue.”
This sounds appealing to me. I’m wondering if we, as villagers, separated by neighborhood loyalties and generational differences, can come together to make a Town Square for Columbia that is as lively and relevant as a New American City deserves to be.
As you can see, I began with a focus on conflicting forces within  Columbia. But as time went on I became fascinated by the Columbia vs. HoCo dynamic, and the mission of the blog expanded accordingly. I certainly never envisioned how deeply I would be going into the Howard County School System. But as a teacher and a parent I found it to be a compelling local story. And I still do.
On the other hand, I'm looking forward to having more time to devote to the original purpose of this blog now that progress is being made on the school front. (Do I have ideas as to who I'd like to see fill that empty board seat? Sure I do. So does everyone I know.) 
Over the past year the local topic which has challenged me the most is racial justice, or, rather, the lack of it. Issues of diversity, racial equity in education, implicit bias, and systemic racism have become more and more crucial to me. I find it troubling that we can be touting "one Howard" and celebrating Columbia's 50th while evidence of a lack of progress looms large. 
Are we who we say we are?
Every day my blog and my day job duke it out for second place in my life, my family being first. My return to full-time employment this year has been both a challenge and a blessing. I'm grateful for the many opportunities my new job brings. But it definitely siphons off some of the creative energy that used to feed the blog.
A shoutout to my friend Mary Kate Murray who told me I should write a blog way back before I knew what blogs were, and to David Gresiman who was my mentor and editor at Patch. 
And a huge HoCo Holler to the readers and supporters of this blog. It was always meant to be a conversation, and you have made it so.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Thursday, May 4, 2017


I saw this question yesterday in a music teachers' group on Facebook:

If you could only ask one question to prospective superintendent during an interview, what would it be?

Given the context, this is obviously a question from a music teaching job applicant heading into an interview. But, given recent events in Howard County, I saw it in a completely different light. As our Board of Education looks ahead to choosing a new Superintendent for our school system, what kind of questions will they ask? Do you have any questions that you think should be asked?

Yesterday Acting Superintendent Michael Martirano held a meet-and-greet event for teachers. He walked away from the podium and stood in the midst of them. And then he took questions. All questions. Difficult questions. Spontaneous, unfiltered questions.

If this doesn't seem exceptional, you may not have been following this story very closely.

While we are asking questions:
  • Why is Maryland the only state that doesn't allow their Boards of Education to both hire and fire Superintendents?
  • Why did members of our former Board of Education vote to approve a Superintendent's contract which legally obligated the current board to such an outrageous payout? 
In recent years the freedom to ask questions and get straight answers has been increasingly discouraged. I would argue that it's a large part of where we are today. If I had to submit a question right now it would be: how do we take steps to make sure that this doesn't happen to us again?

Questions or Comments? Post them here:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


"You're so brave!"

I can't remember how many times people said that to me after I wrote a blog post about the Howard County Public School System.

"You're so brave, Julia."

I need to set the record straight today: I was never brave.

You know what "brave" looks like?

Going to work day after day in a hostile environment is brave. Teaching classes too large, without enough materials or staff support is brave. Advocating for special needs students is brave. Speaking out against bullying and sexual assault is brave. Taking on the system on behalf of sick students, teachers, and staff is brave. Refusing to accept the ugly reality of an achievement and opportunity gap is brave. Going to board meeting after board meeting with people who accuse you of the vilest things in order to discredit your work is brave.

Me? Compared to that, a blog post is--well--just a blog post. I'm clear on that.

Today we have some new hope in Howard County, and a lot less fear. To all of you truly brave people: my heartfelt thanks.

Post comments here:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Who We Remember

From Brittany Packnett on Twitter:

#JordanEdwards. Honor Roll Freshman. 15 years old. Shot and killed by Balch Springs, TX Police. He matters. 

How mindboggling to see this news yesterday when Howard County was declaring May 1st to be Zaching Day in memory of the late Zach Lederer. Zach was a beautiful and inspiring young man who fought and succumbed to cancer. His story has spread and inspired many. His legacy is the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation.

It is fitting that we remember him, and honor him.

What about Jordan Edwards? He wasn't a local boy. That couldn't happen here, right?

Jordan Edwards was a beautiful young man who, in all likelihood, fought and succumbed to racism/implicit bias in our country. That should be everybody's business. Will there be a day in his honor? Will there be a foundation in his name to fight racism?

Please, please, please don't forget him. #SayHisName


There's a Town Hall Meeting on Education in Howard County tonight at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. It begins at 7 pm.

Post comments here:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Speak Up

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, this piece from May 1, 2013:

Soapbox Wednesday

There are essentially two reasons why I teach. They are at the core of everything I do:

1. To foster a capacity for enjoyment, and
2. To provide a supportive environment for meaningful risk-taking

I have been teaching music and movement to special needs preschoolers for ten years. Before that I taught preschool and kindergarten in a small independent school in Baltimore. Whether I have been charged to develop fine motor skills for handwriting, literacy skills, or to support IEP goals, these two reasons run through everything I have done.

Why? Well, because these are the two things I find most essential to life. What is life if we cannot enjoy it? How will we learn or grow if we cannot take risks? The joy and pride I feel in a room full of students as a lesson takes flight is immeasurable. A student who has never participated makes a first imitative movement. Another finally makes eye contact, or smiles. Progress with my students can be very slow but each step is sweet. I feel grateful to be there.

Whenever I see things that stand in the way of enjoyment and risk-taking, I mourn. These days there are plenty: high-stakes testing and the environment it creates for students and teachers; school schedules that wreck teenagers' sleep cycles; bullying that strips enjoyment from life and decimates the bravery to take positive risks; hunger and homelessness.

Every time I see a teacher create a learning environment that respects these essential needs, I rejoice. But the odds are against them. Those are not the things they are being "graded on." Don't believe me? Ask a teacher.

If these are things you care about, speak up.

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. Are there teachers who support students by honoring both their enjoyment and risk-taking? Write them a note. Let them know how they have made a difference for your child.

My AP American History Teacher was that person for me. His contribution to the person, and teacher, I have become was so great that I made the trek to Connecticut with my husband and daughter when I heard that he was retiring. Thanks, Mr. Atwood. Your work lives on in me.

And in my students.

Post comments here: